Yamaga Lantern shows beautiful scenes in festival


Yamaga lantern is more than a craft, it is a work of art

Yamaga lanterns are a traditional craft that has been made in Yamaga City, Kumamoto Prefecture for over 600 years since the Muromachi period (1333-1573). The lanterns are a beautiful and delicate traditional Japanese craft, created with advanced techniques using only handmade washi paper and a small amount of glue.

Speaking of lanterns, it is common to use bamboo as a framework and attach Japanese paper like Gifu lantern, but Yamaga lanterns are extremely unique traditional crafts in that no wood or metal fittings are used at all. A representative work is the gold lantern, which uses an abundance of gold leaf. There are also various other styles, such as the Shinden-tsukuri style and the castle-imitation style. Many of the designs are elaborate and artistic. The size of the lanterns is not merely reduced from the actual size, but by daring to add unique dimensions to the scale, the lanterns give the impression of being the real thing.

Yamaga lantern is most active during the “Yamaga Lantern Festival”. This festival is held every year from August 15 to 17. Women in yukata (light cotton kimono) dance around the city with gold and silver Japanese paper lanterns (kana-toro) on their heads. It is a fantastic sight to behold, so be sure to visit the festival.

Development of Yamaga lantern

Yamaga City located in the northern part of Kumamoto Prefecture once was a place of unique culture when it served as a lodging town and as a base for trade and distribution centered around the Kikuchi River. During the Edo period when cultivation of kouzo (paper mulberry tree), which is the raw material for traditional Japanese paper washi, and the paper manufacturing industry were having their best times, a businessman called Dannashu supported the prosperity of Yamaga and created competitions for techniques of washi craftsmen which made this craft popular. The story has it that later these ‘Yamaga lanterns’, which require advanced present-day technology, were firmly established as examples of Japanese paper craft works and developed as artefacts for entertaining the lords, as religious offerings and as attractions for tourists.

Manufacturing Methods and Processes


The Japanese paper that used to make the lanterns is determined to be handmade Japanese paper. After the materials for gold and silver paper are selected, the washi is lined and dried.

2. Busuki

Using bukki-gami, which has holes in it according to the dimensions of each part, the dots that will serve as indicators are placed on the lantern paper as if poking it with a needle. This is used to distinguish between the “fold line” and the “cut line.

3. Hotarubai pull

Using a metal spatula called a hotarugaai, lines are drawn on the lantern paper to connect the points made by walking.

yamaga lantern
source: Omiya Shrine

 4.Ceiling cut, pillar cut, and hexagonal cut

After the paper is cut, it is separated with a small knife along the “cut line” of the lantern paper. The ceiling, pillar, and hexagonal part of the lantern are cut off with a small knife.

5. Papermaking

Paper stencils are used for curved parts, which are then shaped with a pencil.

yamaga lantern
source: Omiya Shrine

6. Cuting

The patterned paper is cut into pieces with a small knife. For the part of the gibojyu, which is to be glued on the thick part of the washi paper without making a glue allowance, the cross section of the lantern paper is made at an angle.

7. Glueing the paper

After the pieces of paper are separated, each part of the lantern is glued to the paper.

8. Attaching the giboshu

The 6 pieces of lantern paper that will be  sed to make the “giboshu” are carefully assembled together.

9. Assembling the whole

Finally, each part is assembled to complete the golden lantern, which consists of about 200 parts.

source: Assist Biz


Yamaga Lantern is essentially different from other lanterns or Chochin like Yame Chochin, and is a one-of-a-kind craft that has no wood, bamboo, or metal fittings in its framework. As a result, they look grand and have a strong presence, but are surprisingly lightweight. Originally made for festivals and as votive offerings, they are also useful as interior decorations because of their gorgeous appearance. How about this as an ornament with Japanese atmosphere?

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